Written By Oruvingal Sreedharan And R. Muniyappa
Published by Babasaheb Dr.B.R. Ambedkar Adhyayana Kendra, Bangalore-9
Dedicated to late Sriramappa and other Six Dalits who were burnt alive at Kambalapalli
We sincerely acknowledge the support given by the following DSS/BSP activists for bringing out this small booklet
O. Rajanna, N. Shivanna, Krishna Chinthamani, Dr.L. Hanumanthaiah, Marasandra Muniyappa.
Will history repeat itself ?
On 26th January 1950, India will be an Independent country (Cheers). What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain her independence or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people…
Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds, we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood. (Cheers).
- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly On 25th November 1949.
Burning Alive of 7 Dalits – Genesis
Kolar is one of the 27 Districts of Karnataka State in India. There are 11 Taluks and 12 Assembly Constituencies out of which 3 are reserved for Scheduled Castes. There are 2 Parliament seats in Kolar district – Kolar and Chickaballapur. Kolar seat is reserved for Scheduled Castes and K.H. Muniyappa, a Scheduled Caste is the sitting Member of Parliament. Chowdareddy has been elected from Chinthamani Assembly seat, where the carnage took place.
Out of the 27 districts Kolar has the highest SC/ST population bordering about 30% of the total pupulation of thedistrict. They are agricultural labourers working under the upper caste feudal landlords. A large number of them continues to work as bonded labourers in the house of Vokkaliga landlords. The entire economy of the district and the industrial establishments are under the control of Vokkaligas. Out of the 12 MLAs 7 are Vokkaligas, 3 SCs and 2 Balijigas who are also upper caste. This shows that the Vokkaligas not only posses lands in the district but also wield political power. Thus what ever Vokkaligas say in the district is the law of the district and the writ of the State does not run there. The entire administration including the police force is at their beck and call.
The hopeless state of affairs of Dalits in the district can therefore very well be imagined from the facts given above.
The head quarters of the district is at Kolar. 2 students from Mulabagal Taluk were studying in the Government college at Kolar during the academic year 1974-75 of whom one was from Vokkaliga caste and the other belonged to Scheduled Caste named Munivenkatappa. Both of them appeared for PUC examination together and the Vokkaliga boy failed and Munivenkatappa passed in FIRST class. The Vokkaligas could not tolerate passing of a Dalit with distinction and failure of the student of their own community. Without any hesitation the Vokkaligas murdered Munivenkatappa and packed his dead body in a gunny bag and threw it in the Kolaramma Tank. This incident was the turning point in the awakening of Dalit consciousness among the Dalit students in Kolar district and from them to Dalit masses.
There were demonstrations and public meetings by Dalits who began to group together and started the district unit of Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS) in Kolar. As usual the murder case did not end up in conviction and all the accused persons were acquitted for want of evidence. This was due to the interference of political forces in the investigation of the crime.
The next notable incident was the gang rape and murder of one Chinnamma belonging to Scheduled Caste by Vokkaligas in Doddi Halli village about 5 kms away from Chinthamani Town. The dead body was thrown into a well and she wore injuries on her face, breasts and on private parts. The political forces got her body burried after a fake postmortem. The DSS took up the case, got the body exhumed and got a re-postmortem conducted by a panel of 3 Doctors. But the accused could not be convicted for want of evidence. This also led to the awakening of dormant Dalit forces not only in the district but also in other parts of the state.
During 1975-76 a Scheduled Caste woman was gang raped. Nallagutta Halli village is about 37 kms from Kolar Town and comes under the Chinthamani Taluk. Smt. Nagamma belonged to Scheduled Caste and one day along with her husband went to Nallagutta Hill for collecting fire wood. About 6 rowdys, one belonging to Brahmin and other 5 belonging to Vokkaliga community were enjoying drinks and after seeing the couple went to them tied the husband with creepers and gang raped the wife in the presence of her husband. In this case also there was no conviction. The DSS took active role in organising the Dalits and agitating against these barbaric acts of the upper castes. The agitation was led by N. Shivanna, Gaddam N. Venkatesh and others and an attempt was made by the caste Hindus on the life of N. Shivanna in a hit and run case in which he sustained severe head injuries.
During the 1978 Assembly Elections N. Shivanna contested from Chinthamani Assembly general constituency. The opposite candidates belonged to Vokkaliga community. In that election Chowdareddy won. The upper castes were not happy that a Scheduled Caste person contested in a general seat against Vokkaligas. After a few weeks they organised Vokkaligas, late in the evening forcibly entered Vinoba Colony where the Madigas (SC) were residing. They consisted of more than 200 persons armed with deadly weapons and entered into the houses of Dalits breaking the doors open and dragging the inmates out. There after they set their houses on fire. One Dalit Pedda Patelappa was stabbed to death and about 30-35 Dalits sustained bleeding injuries. Though the police came they were few in number and could not control the situation. The unruly mob attacked the police and the Circle Inspector of Police sustained grievous injuries. This incident led to the unification of various factions created by the Vokkaligas in the Dalit community. A complaint was lodged by N. Shivanna and under his leadership DSS started agitations which led to externment of 4 persons. The Vokkaligas influenced the witnesses and the case ended in acquittal of the accused.
It was during this period one Sambaiah, a Dalit lost his valuable land. A landlord in Chinnapagana Halli, Malur Taluk, Kolar Dist., became a defaulter in payment of land revenue and his land was ordered to be sold in auction. The auction notification was issued and in the auction notification the survey No. of the land of Sambaiah was inserted after striking of the survey No. of the land of the landlord. Thus the land of Sambaiah was auctioned and the same was purchased by the Vokkaliga landlords of the same village with full knowledge of the forgery and fraud.
Sambaiah had no other means of livelihood and during his old age he became a landless agricultural labourer. He filed an appeal against the auction and the case went upto the High Court of Karnataka and after about 20 years of litigation the land was restored to his widow. By that time Sambaiah had died and his son Munivenkatappa was also dead unable to bear the great mental agony. The Lawyer O.Sreedharan, one of the founder leaders of DSS, took the certified copy of the final order of the High Court to the village and handed over the same to his widow and visited the place where the father and son were buried and all the villagers who had assembled there observed two minutes silence.
The Dalits of the village had organised a small function in the evening and the leaders like Muniyappa BSP State Vice President, Mavalli Shankar State Organising Convenor DSS, R.Muniyappa State Executive Committee Member DSS were to address the gathering. Suddenly electric current was cut.
For about 20 years the Vokkaligas enjoyed the land knowing fully well that it belonged to Sambaiah and that they got it through fraudulent means. The attitude of the Vokkaligas towards Dalits can very well be imagined from the above incident.
NOVEL PROTEST BY DSS
Next notable event was the brutal murder of Kumbara Sheshagiriappa a person belonging to Kumbara (Potter) community coming under most backward castes and gang rape of his daughter Anasuyamma at Hunasi Kote, Malur Taluk, Kolar Dist. This was one of the watersheds in the onward march of DSS. This incident took place in the year 1979. At that time one Krishnegowda, a Vokkaliga was the Malur Taluk Board President. Kumbara Sheshagiriyappa was brutally murdered by Krishnegowda and other Vokkaligas because he opposed Vokkaligas when they tried to snatch away the piece of land belonging to him. They also raped Anasuyamma daughter of Sheshagiriyappa. The police force was not able to arrest all the accused persons because of the political clout of the Vokkaliga community. DSS took up the issue though Sheshagiriyappa was not a Scheduled Caste. The DSS conducted a 2 days camp and prepared a dedicated set of processionists to take Sheshagiriyappa’s JYOTHI to Vidhana Soudha. The JYOTHI was lit from the grave yard of Sheshagiriyappa in Hunasi Kote Village. It symbolised his spirit and it marched towards Karnataka Legislature which was in session at that time. It represented Sheshagiriyappa going to the Assembly to ask the Government as to why he was not given protection and as to why the culprits were not arrested and punished. The processionists numbering about 500 were latti – charged when they attempted to go near the Assembly. Leaders like Prof. B. Krishnappa, O. Sreedharan, M.D. Gangaiah, N. Giriyappa Devanur Mahadeva, Siddalingaiah, L. Hanumanthaiah, O. Rajanna, N. Shivanna, N. Venkatesh, H. Govindaiah, N. Muniswamy, Indudara Honnapura, C.M. Muniyappa, K. Ramaiah, Vijayakumar, V. Narayanaswamy and others led the procession. Many sustained injuries in the police latti-charge and all of them were arrested and removed and cases were booked against two dozen leaders. The Opposition Party in the Legislative Assembly under the leadership of late Devaraj Urs staged a walkout. The 3 days protest march from Hunasi Kote to Bangalore and the latti-Charge at the end resulted in wide awakening particularly among Dalit masses and in the emergence of DSS as a strong force in Karnataka.
H. Nagasandra village in Gowribidanur taluk of Kolar District had a large number of bonded labourers. They were made to eat compulsorily the food supplied by the Vokkaliga landlords under whom they worked. They were not even allowed to cook their own food even during festivities. Though the Bonded Labourers Abolition Act was in force, the authorities took no action to release and rehabilitate them. The DSS took up that issue during 1982-83 and got them liberated and worked for their rehabilitation. An agitation was launched for the distribution of Government land. The release of bonded labourers infuriated the Vokkaligas and they demanded banning of DSS. The Vokkaliga community thought that if the DSS was allowed to function in the state it would bring about a revolutionary change in the existing structure of the society and in the economic and administrative systems. So they created disharmony among the top Dalit Leaders. There after the Vokkaligas formed an organisation called “Vokkaligara Yuva Vedike” and it was inaugurated by Sri Balagangadhara Swamiji. During his inaugural speech he exhorted his followers to liquidate their enemies and whenever their interest was in danger all the community leaders irrespective of their political affiliations should join together and fight against it. After a few weeks a girl belonging to Vokkaliga community tied “Rokky” on the hand of a Dalit boy Venkatashiva, both were classmates in the Government First Grade College Chinthamani, as a mark of her brotherly feeling towards him. This incident resulted in protest by the Vokkaliga students who approached the Vokkaligara Yuva Vedike leaders. The students and the Vedike leaders came to the college, entered into the class and dragged Venkatashiva out of the class room and assaulted him. The victim along with some Dalit students went to the Chinthamani Police Station to lodge a complaint and sat in Dharna in front of the police station demanding the arrest of the culprits. At that time the Vokkaliga students and members of the Vedike went to the PUC Hostel run by the Government at Shidlagatta road with deadly weapons like sickles, iron rods, cycle chains, etc., They destroyed their books, files and furniture and the food cooked for the lunch and the provision including rice etc. They did not forget to remove Bharatha Rathna Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s photo from the wall. They threw it on the ground and trampled on it with their boots and chappals.
Next day the then Social Welfare Minister K.M. Krishnareddy, a Vokkaliga hailing from Chinthamani town called a peace committee meeting and stopped all further prosecution proceedings and hushed up the matter.
NOTORIOUS BILLANDLA HALLI INCIDENT
Billandla Halli is a village about 30 kms from Chinthamani Town. There are about 200 families of Vokkaligas and 75 houses of Madigas and Holayas (both SCs). The Dalits wanted to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanthi and start a village unit of DSS in the village and cultural programs were also arranged for the function. State DSS leader N. Shivanna and others were invited for the function. Pamphlets were printed and distributed. Vokkaliga Yuva Vedike opposed the starting of a unit of DSS in the village. On 31-8-1997 the then Social Welfare Minister Krishnareddy, Transport Minister Bachegowda, Agricultural Minister Byregowda and Housing Minister and Karnataka Milk Producers Federation Chairman H.D. Revanna all belonged to Vokkaliga community attended a function for opening of a Dairy building at Ragutta Halli village, the neighbouring village of Billandla Halli. The Vokkaliga Yuva Vedike leaders met the team of Vokkaliga Ministers and informed them about the inauguration of a DSS village unit in Billandla Halli and requested them to take suitable action to prevent it.
On 1-9-1997 the day of inauguration of DSS unit the Dy. Superintendent of Police Srikantaiah and Circle Inspector Ramachandrappa both belonging to Vokkaliga community contacted N. Shivanna on phone. The Circle Inspector told him that their function at Billandla halli might create law and order problems and might lead to blood shed in the locality and asked him to cancel the program and not to go there. He also told him to contact Dy. SP. Srikantaiah immediately. Then N. Shivanna contacted Dy. SP. Srikantaiah over phone who also informed N. Shivanna to cancel the program and not to go there since large number of hired goondas had assembled there. N. Shivanna agreed and informed about the cancellation of the program to the Dy. SP. The DSS Mungaana Halli Hobli Convener Kodigal Ramesh telephoned to N. Shivanna telling him about the assembly of large number of Dalits to participate in the function and asked him to attend the function without fail. Shivanna informed him that the function has been cancelled on the advise of the police. But the police wanted to go to the village to prevent any untoward incident. Thinking that N. Shivanna and other leaders of DSS would be coming to attend the function with police protection the Vokkaligas had created road blocks with stones and boulders. Sudhakarreddy a Vokkaliga Yuva Vedike activist was sitting on a branch of a tree with loaded gun to shoot N. Shivanna and other DSS leaders. When the police who were coming to the village started removing the road blocks Sudhakarreddy fired at them and one police constable fell dead. Noticing that, the police fired at Sudhakarreddy and he fell down dead. The Vokkaligas who were hiding behind the bushes to attack Dalits ran towards the police and attacked them with deadly weapons during which one police constable was murdered on the spot and another constable was chased and caught and dragged out of a school 1 km away from the spot and brutally murdered in the presence of teachers and students. Many police officers and constables were injured and their vehicles were burnt. No effective steps have been taken to prosecute the culprits. This emboldened the Vokkaligas and they felt that nothing would happen to them if they murder others. Against the murder of their colleagues the police personnel conducted Dharna in the police station. The DSS also protested against the brutal act of Vokkaligas who killed only those police constables who did not belong to Vokkaliga community. A Kolar Bundh was observed by DSS and the general public against the above atrocious act of Vokkaligas.
During August 1997 a flock of sheep belonging to both Vokkaligas and Dalits was stolen from Kambala Palli Village. In this connection a ‘Panchayath’ was held in the village and it was unilaterally decided that Venkataramanappa, Anjanappa and Ravanappa, all Dalits had stolen the sheep inspite of their denial and it was also decided to file a police complaint of theft against them. Fearing police action the above named Dalits left their village along with their families. A police complaint was filed in this connection and during investigation it came to light that the sheep were stolen and taken to Andhra Pradesh and sold for Rs. 9,000/- by K.M. Maddireddy, Anjaneyareddy, Reddappa, Narayanaswamy, Kittanna alias Krishnareddy (waterman) and their followers all belonging to Vokkaliga community of the same village. The sheep belonging to the Dalits were recovered and brought back and handed over to the owners. Dalit Venkataramanappa and his two brothers who had left the village took leading part in the detection of the stolen sheep which resulted in the exposure of Vokkaligas’ conspiracy. Further it also brought contempt and ridicule to Vokkaligas as a whole in the village. They wanted to do away with Venkataramanappa and was waiting for a chance for him to come back to the village.
According to Section 3(1) (VIII) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. 1989 whoever not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe institutes false criminal or other legal proceedings against a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than Six months but which may extend to 5 years and with fine. The police should have booked a criminal case against the Vokkaligas who had filed false complaints against Dalits in the matter under the above provision of law. That would have checked them from advancing further with their criminal activities.
On hearing the delivery of his wife Venkataramanappa came to the village on 5-6-1998 at about 10.30 p.m. On getting information about his arrival Maddireddy, Anjaneyareddy and other 39 persons including Kittanna alias Krishnareddy (waterman) formed an unlawful assembly and chased him to his house and stoned him to death in the presence of his wife and other family members. He was buried under the stones numbering about 50. All the above 41 culprits were released on bail and were roaming in the locality.
In many villages like Vaijakur, Burudagunte, Suladhenahalli, Eragampalli, Sitampalli there were social boycotts engineered by the Vokkaligas and a murder was also committed by them in Eragampalli village. All these above incidents clearly show that the Vokkaliga community is uncivilised exhibiting criminal tendencies.
The Chief Minister of Karnataka Sri S.M. Krishna belongs to this Vokkaliga community and he is considered as a leader of Vokkaligas. His assumption of Office as Chief Minister of Karnataka was celebrated by the Vokkaligas.
During December 1999 the Assistant Commissioner of Chikkaballapura Sub-Division conducted a meeting in Chinthamani Taluk Office attended by DSS leaders, Taluk Social Welfare Officer, Municipal Commissioner, BDO, Police Officers and the Tahsildar to look into the grievances of Dalits in the taluk and to find out solutions for the same. During the meeting Dalit Sriramappa of Kambalapalli, the younger brother of murdered Venkataramanappa told in the meeting that they were forced to leave the village by the Vokkaligas who had destroyed their bore well, murdered his elder brother and waiting to liquidate him and how long he could live outside the village and he wanted to go back to his village to lead a peaceful life and sought the help and aid of the authorities. A meeting was fixed on 8-1-2000 to take Sriramappa, his brother Anjanappa, his father Venkatarayappa and mother Ramakka back to the village and settle them there with all protection. Accordingly these said persons were taken back to the village on that day. By noon the authorities wanted a conciliation meeting to be held between the Vokkaligas and the members of the Dalit family. The Vokkaligas decided to hold the conciliation meeting in the temple located at their locality. Fearing reprisal from the Vokkaligas, the Dalits were afraid of going to the area of the Vokkaligas and they requested the authorities to conduct the meeting at ‘Arali Katte’ near their colony. The Vokkaligas did not agree to this for reasons best known to them. So the conciliation meeting did not take place.
On 10-3-2000 at about 6p.m. one Shankarappa and his friend Narasimhappa (both Dalits) were bringing tender coconut to the ailing father of Shankarappa along the Yanamalapadi road. K.M. Venkatareddy S/o. Maddireddy and Ravi S/o Kittanna (both Vokkaligas) were coming in a TVS XL from the opposite direction. Venkatareddy brought the vehicle so close to Shankarappa as if he wanted to hit him with the vehicle and suddenly stopped it. Shankarappa asked when he had so much space in the road what was the need for him to take his vehicle so close to him. To this Venkatareddy retorted why should he (Dalit boy) come by that road. Thus a quarrel ensued between them. K.M. Venkatareddy and Ravi threatened stating that the Hole-Madigas have grown too much and they would see that they were suppressed as they did in the case of police personnel and returned back to their Kambalapalli Village. By the time Shankarappa and Narasimhappa reached their village by walk about half a km Venkatareddy, Ravi and Kittanna alias Krishnareddy (waterman) organised about 11 members with deadly weapons and confronted the Dalits Shankarappa and Narasimhappa, assaulted them, inflicting bleeding injuries on Shankarappa. Those two Dalits ran away from the scene fearing for their life. The above unruly mob of Vokkaligas roamed about in the Scheduled Caste colony broke the houses and assaulted the inmates. Shankarappa and Narasimhappa and others ran to Yanamalapadi Village and contacted through phone the Kencharlahalli Police Station and reported the matter. The Sub-Inspector Venkataramanappa came in a jeep along with a van of police to Kambalapalli village. He visited the Vokkaliga houses talked with them and left the place without visiting the Dalit colony, the houses destroyed and the Dalits who were assaulted, leaving behind the police in the van.
The next day morning i.e. 11-3-2000 Shankarappa, Narasimhappa and other Dalit victims came to the house of DSS leader N. Shivanna at Chinthamani. N. Shivanna contacted the Circle Inspector over phone but he was told that the Circle Inspector would be available only in the afternoon. Then he contacted the Superintendent of Police (SP) at Kolar. He was told that the SP was on leave then he contacted the Additional SP informed him about the occurrences. The Additional SP told Shivanna that the Circle Inspector would be coming in the after noon and he could send the vicitims of assault to him. The Dalit victims without waiting for the arrival of Circle Inspector and because some of the victims were suffering from the injuries went to the jurisdictional police station and gave a written complaint to the Sub-Inspector Venkataramanappa who refused to receive the complaint and asked the injured to get out from the police station. Then the victims came to Chinthamani to meet the Circle Inspector. When the Circle Inspector came they narrated the incident and told him that the SI at Kencharlahalli had refused to receive the complaint. Then the Circle Inspector contacted the Sub-Inspector over the phone and called him to his office. The Circle Inspector handed over the complaint to the Sub-Inspector and directed him to register the complaint.
The victims came to the bus stand and boarded a private BKR bus to go to their village. One Anjeneyareddy who was supported by Dalits but failed to win the village panchayat elections also boarded the same bus. After seeing the plight of the victims he enquired what had happened to them. The victims explained what happened to them and Anjeneyareddy became furious and felt enraged and told them that it had happened in his absence and he would meet the criminals and ask them why they assaulted them. The bus reached the village at about 7 p.m. By that time the police in the van had already left the place and when the victims alighted from the bus the Vokkaligas had by then collected 40-50 persons and were waiting for the complainants at the bus stop. Those people who alighted from the bus included Sriramappa, Anjanappa, Shankarappa, B.K. Anjenappa, Ravana and Anjeneyareddy and others. They were proceeding towards their houses. At that time the Vokkaliga unruly mob started throwing stones at them. The Dalits ran towards their houses and bolted their doors from inside. Anjeneyareddy went to his house and came back angrily with his Vokkaliga followers, went to the unruly mob and started questioning them as to who were the persons who attacked the Dalits in his absence. In the Vokkaliga unruly mob belonging to one Buchanagari Byreddy who won the election against the Anjeneyareddy, Kittanna alias Krishnareddy (waterman) was also present. The altercation between the two groups started and it developed into a physical fight between two groups. In this scuffle Kittanna alias Krishnareddy (waterman) fell down and died. Immediately afterwards Anjeneyareddy and his supporters ran away from the place. After hearing that Kittanna alias Krishnareddy had been killed other Vokkaligas in the locality rushed to the place of occurrence and joined with the followers of Buchanagari Byreddy. Maddireddy and his son Venkatareddy who were the supporters of Byreddy led the mob towards the houses of the Dalit Teacher Anjanappa and Sriramappa, Kunti Papanna and Subbamma. Maddireddy was the prime accused in the sheep theft case. He is also accused in the murder case of Venkataramanappa elder brother of Sriramappa. His son Venkatareddy is an accused in the case of assault on Dalit Shankarappa. They went to the 3 Dalit houses bolted all the doors from outside and brought straw and covered the houses all around and also inserted straw through chimney into the houses. Then Maddireddy and his son Venkatareddy and others brought kerosine and petrol and poured it over the straw and over the straw inserted into the houses through chimney. They also poured the oil into the houses through the gaps of the doors and windows and set the houses on fire. On hearing the news, the fire tenders rushed to the spot but prevented on the way by the unruly mob from reaching the spot. Though the police had full information none of them came to the rescue of the victims and all those inside the houses were burnt alive.
Dead bodies of seven Dalits Sriramappa (25), Anjanappa (27), Ramakka (70), Subbakka (45), Papamma (46), Narasimhaiah (25), Chikkapapanna (40), were removed from the houses. The Vokkaligas did not permit to burry the dead bodies in the victims’ own lands. The Government ordered a Judicial Enquiry by a sitting Judge of the High Court only to be withdrawn later. No case was booked against the police. No attempts were made to trace the main accused Vokkaligas who are now protected by the Vokkaliga political leaders. The Vokkaligas would not have dared to commit such an heinous crime had they not felt safe under the leadership of S.M. Krishna the Chief Minister of Karnataka. The DSS has therefore demanded the resignation of S.M. Krishna and if he failed to tender his resignation the Congress (I) party should remove him as the party did in case of Orissa Chief Minister when Staines and his two sons were burnt alive.
On 18th March 2000 hardly a week after the shocking incident the shameless Congress (I) Government of Karnataka wanted to go ahead with their “Samatha Sambhrama 2000″ a two days festivities of performing art. Artists from all over the State assembled in the Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bangalore. Rani Satish, Minister for Kannada and Culture, Government of Karnataka came to inaugurate the function. The inaugural function was about to start. Noted poet Dr. L. Hanumanthaiah, Kamala Hampana and other Dalits got up and went to the stage and prevented the organisors from inaugurating the function. They told the organisors about the incongruity of conducting a festival within a few days after burning to death of 7 helpless human beings when the memory of the incident was still fresh in public mind and started shouting slogans. After finding that the audience present were sympathising with protestors the Minister who came to inaugurate the function changed the “plate” and said that she had come to announce the cancellation of the function. Many of the artists who had assembled there said they were busy with their rehersals and were not aware of the incident and if they had known it earlier they would not have come to participate in the festivities organised by the Government.
The burning alive of 7 Dalits to death did not shake the conscience of the people of Karnataka ruled by the Congress (I) Party nor did it stir the conscience of the nation ruled by Bharathiya Janatha Party. There was no call for a Karnataka Bundh or National Bundh. Bhagavat Geetha has taught us to remain unperturbed amid sorrows and pleasures. One has to withdraw his senses from all sense – objects like a tortoise which draws in its limbs from all directions.
Yada samharate cayam kurmonganiva sarvasah indriyanindriyarthebhyastasya prajna pratishita
True to the teaching of Bhagavat Geetha Indian intellectuals have withdrawn from this sorrowful event. Buddha, the compassionate one alone would have shared the sorrow of the bereaved. After Pokran tests the mischievous Brahmin intellectuals said “Buddha smiles”. Buddha never waged any war. It was Sri Krishna who was involved in Kurukshetra war in which bows and arrows were the weapons used. Therefore after Pokran tests Sri Krishna and Sri Rama who also fought with bows and arrows during Lankan War would have smiled but not Buddha.
A large No. of political leaders visited the place of occurrence. Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress (I) President and Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha too visited the Kambalapalli Village on 18-3-2000 and met members of bereaved families. She also met the Dalit families who had left the village fearing further attack on them by Vokkaligas, during her visit to Chinthamani Camp.
A delegation of DSS led by N. Shivanna met her at Raj Bhavan on the same day and a 15 page Memorandum was presented to her containing various demands including the resignation of the Chief Minister S.M. Krishna. The delegation explained to her the various incidents of atrocities committed by Vokkaligas on them and as a person belonging to Vokkaliga community and as a leader of the community at least he should have owned the moral responsibility for burning to death of 7 Dalits and resigned.
The demand of the DSS for the removal of S.M. Krishna from the Chief Ministership was rejected by Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Further emboldened Vokkaligas organised a Bundh in Chinthamani on 22-3-2000. They shouted slogans against Bharatha Ratna Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and DSS and its leaders. They demanded banning of DSS and externment of N. Shivanna. They forced Bundhs in a number of Cities and Towns in the state and they continue to do so. It should be noted that the Vokkaligas are doing so not to protest against the burning alive of 7 Dalits but against stabbing to death a Vokkaliga during a scuffle between two rival political factions. Central Ministers Ram Vilas Paswan, Hon’ble Minister for Communications and Sharad Yadav, Hon’ble Minister for Civil Aviation also visited the place on 25-03-2000. The DSS submitted the memorandum to them also.
Condemning the brutal act of Vokkaligas the DSS under the leadership of M. Jayanna, Mavalli Shankar, Sridhar Kaliveer, N. Shivanna, Verupaksha, M. Devadas etc. had organised rallies, Dharnas throughout the state.
The memorandum submitted by the DSS to the Chief Minister of Karnataka on 13-03-2000 in the matter is given below :
MEMORANDUMConsequent on the burning to death a large number of Dalits in Kambalapalli Village Chinthamani Taluk, Kolar District, the DSS demands that :
1. The sites and houses where Dalits were burnt alive by Reddys (Vokkaligas) should be preserved as it is as a monument of National Shame. It should be declared as protected monument immediately.
2. The DSS considers these murders as the result of defective police policy of the Government. Withdraw forthwith the Secret Circular issued by the Government not to book cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. 1989 filed by Dalits before investigation. Implement the Act with all its vigor and force. Failure to book cases when atrocities are reported should be declared an offence and should be entered compulsorily in the confidential reports of police officials and such officials should be barred from promotion. Introduce special courses on untouchability and the disabilities arising out of it in police training curriculum.
3. Book cases under Section 302 of IPC against the Superintendent of Police, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Circle Inspector and Sub-Inspector and keep them under suspension forthwith.
4. Withdraw the entire State Police Force from the area as we have lost faith in Karnataka Police and post Central Forces in the area.
5. Hang the enlarged photos of the burnt houses at conspicuous places in Raj Bhavan, in the chamber of Chief Minister and all other Ministers and on the walls of Legislative Council and Assembly and in all Police Stations.
6. The State should observe 5 days state mourning.
7. Constitute State Human Rights Commission forthwith with persons of proved integrity and ability having concern for human values.
8. Punish the officials who are responsible for not utilising funds allotted for the development of SC/ST.
9. Form Village Defence Forces recruiting unemployed Dalit youths.
10. The investigation should be entrusted to the CBI since the State Police is partial and this horrible incident occurred due to their fault and they are likely to spoil the investigation for helping themselves.
11. Owning responsibility Sri S.M. Krishna, Chief Minister, should submit his resignation forthwith.
No demand for a Judicial Enquiry was made because the Government of Karnataka had already suo moto ordered for it. The Judicial Enquiry was later withdrawn on the false notion created by Vokkaligas that every thing would come out during the CBI investigation. There are clear distinctions between a Judicial Enquiry and a CBI investigation. In the case of assasination of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi both Judicial Enquiry and CBI investigations were there. In Karnataka in the case of murder of Chittaranjan, a BJP MLA there were both Judicial Enquiry and CBI investigation. Burning alive to death of 7 Dalits abundantly qualifies for both Judicial Enquiry and CBI investigation.
There is a political dimention to the occurences in Kambalapalli. Krishnareddy was the Social Welfare Minister in the Janatha Dal Government. It was he who hushed up the attack of Vokkaliga Yuva Vedike activists on Venkatashiva and the distruction of PUC College Hostel and desecration of photo of Bharatha Rathna Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. It was he who took action to prevent Dalits from holding their cultural function and opening a DSS village unit at Billandla Halli. He was known for his anti – SC/ST behaviour. He contested to the Legislative Assembly during last general elections on Janatha Dal (U) ticket but lost. He wanted to be in the ruling party always. So he joined the Congress (I) when it came to power.
Chowdareddy was a Congress (I) Minister. When he was refused Congress (I) ticket to contest the election to Legislative Assembly during last general election he contested as a rebel candidate and won the election. It is said that Chowdareddy is not so harsh as Krishnareddy towards Dalits. It was the followers of these two political leaders who faught the street battle on that fateful night. Anjanareddy who was supported by Dalits in the Panchayat Elections but lost, is the follower of Chowdareddy while Buchannagari Byreddy who won the election is the follower of Krishnareddy. If it were only a battle between two political parties the followers of one party should have burnt the houses of the followers of the other political party irrespective of their caste or atleast the houses of the followers of both the parties should have been burnt. That is not the case here. The attackers had chosen those houses of Dalits who had returned to the village on the advice and the assurances of the local authorities. It was clearly an attack by the powerful Vokkaligas on the weak Dalits. By committing this heinous crime the Vokkaligas have proclaimed that they are barbarians. Now the question is how these two communities can live together in a locality or village. One suggestion is that the Dalits should leave the villages where they are in a minority to cities or towns or to places where they are in a majority. This will no doubt reduce tension between the two communities. But at what cost? The other effective solution is a political one. Instead of supporting one political party of upper castes against another and incurring its wrath, the Dalits can have their own political party. They need not go for a new party. There is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Kanshi Ram and Mayavathi. It is a National Party of the Dalits, by the Dalits and for the Dalits. Political Power and Political Power in the hands of Dalits alone can solve their problems.
Unwilling to act
|Governments across the country have shown a remarkable reluctance to use the S.C./S.T. Act to protect Dalits from upper-caste violence.|
GROWING UNEASE By Lyla Bavadam in Mumbai
ATROCITIES against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes registered a steady rise in Maharashtra from 890 cases in 1999 to 1,385 cases in 2007, the latest year for which government statistics are available. In 1995, the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance promised to repeal the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, if voted to power. The reasoning was that it was a hindrance to communal harmony. One of the first moves of the Sena-BJP government (1995-2000) was to withdraw more than 1,000 cases registered under the Act, saying many of them were false. This in itself was illegal since it requires the court’s consent to withdraw cases. Most of the cases related to the aftermath of the violence that followed the renaming of Marathwada University as Dr Ambedkar University. Upper-caste Hindus protested violently at the time. Even now, caste tensions in the Marathwada region are the highest in the State.
Apart from the Sena-BJP’s attempt to get rid of the Act, there are doubts about the commitment of the government, of whichever party, towards it. Quoting figures from the 2007 annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Asian Centre for Human Rights’ publication “Torture in India 2009” states that the NCRB “reported a total of 30,031 cases – including 206 cases under the Protection of Civil Rights Act and 9,819 cases under the S.C./S.T. Act – against the S.Cs in 2007. Although the average charge-sheeting rate for the crimes against the S.Cs was 90.6 per cent, the average conviction rate was only 30.9 per cent. A total of 51,705 persons (78.9 per cent) out of 65,554 persons arrested for crimes committed against Scheduled Castes were charge-sheeted, but only 29.4 per cent were convicted, consisting of 13,871 persons out of 47,136 persons against whom trials were completed.”
Special courts to try atrocity cases do not exist in Maharashtra. Instead, the government makes placatory gestures that do not go beyond reiterating the provisions of the S.C./S.T. Act. The most recent example was when the previous government said it would fine and curtail development funds to an entire village where a caste atrocity was committed . This provision exists in the Act. N.K. Sonare, national president of the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace, India, said: “Everything is on paper. Nothing is applied. Instead there is always pressure on the people not to file complaints. The police are instructed not to file FIRs or to leave loopholes in investigation.” Sonare added that there were numerous conventions and recommendatory reports that supported victims of caste abuse, but the government was lax about following them.
If it had, then incidents such as the one that took place at Rajnai village in Beed district on August 23 could have been prevented. A 15-year-old S.C. girl was kidnapped and gangraped by three men, one of whom is believed to be a Hindu priest. She was left at a bus stand by her assailants. Her family filed an FIR but the police initially refused to register a case under the S.C./S.T. Act, though they did it later, under pressure from a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The main accused has not yet been arrested and the family is under pressure to withdraw the case. “They are landless people and depend on the upper castes for their income. This is being used to put pressure on them,” said a representative of the NGO.
If they did own some land and decide to grow something on it, they could meet the fate of Madhukar Ghatge of Kulakjai village in Satara district. When he retired from his job in the Railways in Mumbai in 2007, he only had one aim – cultivate his land in the village. One of the first things he did was to dig a well after acquiring the permission from the panchayat. It was, tragically, his last action. Ghatge’s upper-caste neighbours were enraged at his “audacity”. On April 26, 2007, he was attacked with rods and axes and he died on the way to hospital. Fourteen people were identified as the assailants and 12 were arrested and charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the S.C./S.T. Act. A charge sheet was filed and they were released on bail. They are now believed to be absconding.
Caste hatred at its worst perhaps was witnessed at Khairlanji village in Bhandara district in September 2006 when four members of a Dalit family, the Bhotmanges, were lynched by their neighbours belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), apparently following a dispute over the ownership and use of land. The two women victims were paraded naked and were said to have been gangraped by the residents of the village. All of them were ultimately hacked to death. In September 2008, six people were given the death sentence for the crime but they went in appeal and the case is in the Bombay High Court.
The greatest criticism against the handling of the Khairlanji case was that it was handled from a purely criminal angle and without invoking the S.C./S.T. Act. The charges related to murder, outraging the modesty of women, criminal conspiracy and unlawful assembly with deadly weapons (rape charges were not brought since the post-mortem did not give proof of that). The caste hatred and atrocity angle was completely bypassed even though the Bhotmanges lost their lives because they were Dalits.
That a person’s Dalit identity still overrides everything else in the villages was something Mumbai-returned Dilip Shendge, 25, forgot when he presumed that the use of the public handpump in his village, Bhutegaon in Jalna district, would be on a first-come, first-served basis, in May 2003. For this “lapse” he was murdered and his sister was accosted by a group of upper-caste Patils who taunted her about her caste. Later, she was beaten unconscious when she intervened in a fight between another brother of hers and some boys. Later that evening, the brother, sister and their mother were set on fire outside their house by a mob of Patils. Neighbours doused the flames, but it took them three hours to get the victims to hospital on a bullock cart. Dilip died a few days later of severe burns. A fact-finding team from the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights was told at the police station that the register for the Bhutegaon case could not be found.
In July 1997, half way into the Sena-BJP government’s term, one morning the mainly Dalit residents of Ramabai Nagar in north Mumbai woke up to see a garland of slippers around a bust of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. They reacted violently, stoning vehicles on the nearby highway. The State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) was called in, and within minutes of their arrival they opened fire, killing 10 Dalits. On May 2009, a fast track court in Mumbai sentenced the SRPF platoon commander, Manohar Kadam, to life imprisonment. Though he was ultimately convicted of culpable homicide (and not under the S.C./S.T. Act), the real reason for the trouble remains a mystery.
The incident brought the Dalit population together in a way that Dalit leaders failed to. Already enraged by the 1995 decision to withdraw cases filed under the S.C./S.T. Act, Dalits were further infuriated by the defence of the firing by Chief Minister Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena and Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde of the BJP. In the 1999 Assembly elections the alliance was voted out and it is widely accepted that Dalits, who form 12 per cent of the State’s population, played a significant role in this.
HOSTILE ACTS By T.K. Rajalakshmi in Jaipur
IT is still known as “Kumher kaand” (Kumher carnage). The massacre of Jatavs in Kumher town in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district 17 years ago is something that is not forgotten easily. The incident occurred on June 6, 1992, when 254 homes and hutments were set ablaze. Officially, 17 Jatavs were burnt alive, but independent sources put the number of dead at 30. There were cases of arson, molestation and destruction of property of Jatavs by Jats of the area. Some 600 families reportedly fled Kumher. The BJP was the ruling party in Rajasthan in 1992 and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat the Chief Minister.
P.L. Mimroth, founder of the Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR), recalls not only the incident but the struggle to make public the report of the K.S. Lodha Commission (also called the Kumher Inquiry Commission). The commission readied its report in 1996. The report, says Mimroth, was never tabled; only an Action Taken Report was submitted by the BJP government in 2006, after a lot of pressure was put through the courts, though the government claimed that it had tabled the actual report. “I asked many legislators. They denied seeing a copy of the Lodha Commission report,” he said.
Mimroth added that he could not obtain a copy of the report until 2006; he got it only after filing a writ petition and a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In 1992, Mimroth was the general secretary of the Society of Depressed People for Social Justice and had deposed before the Lodha Commission. “I have three gunny bags of affidavits relating to the Kumher case,” says Mimroth, who was entrusted with the task of conducting an inquiry by the National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), an organisation based in Delhi.
Since 1992, there have been many incidents involving violence and atrocities against Dalits but none evoked the kind of revulsion “Kumher kaand” did. It started with a clash in a cinema hall when some Jatav youth were manhandled. Then the cinema hall was pelted with stones and rumours were spread that the modesty of upper-caste women had been outraged. The frenzy that was built up soon metamorphosed into an organised pogrom against Jatavs. Water supply to the Jatav locality was disconnected and the hutments were set afire.
In Bharatpur that day, Jats of 46 villages held a caste panchayat where aggressive speeches were made. Barring the victims and people representing them, no one else, including those representing the administration, found anything harmful in the aggressive posturing.
It is not surprising that the writ of caste and community panchayats continues to run in the face of administrative apathy and nonchalance in parts of western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. As a result the democratic rights of the poor, women and the socially marginalised are violated regularly. With widening economic inequalities and a section desirous of seeking the rights guaranteed under the Constitution, such clashes and tensions are likely to increase.
Most conflicts are related to land. The record of implementing land reforms is very poor in Rajasthan. There are at least 10 atrocity-prone districts but the State government has not declared a single one as such and the administrative infrastructure to deal with them under the provisions of the S.C./S.T. Act are missing. Of the 33 districts, only 17 have special courts to deal with atrocities against Dalits. “The Act provides for all these. It is a stringent and exhaustive piece of legislation provided it is implemented,” said Mimroth.
A Dalit woman who was assaulted twice allegedly by a contractor appointed under the NREGA at Tikel village, 60 km from Jaipur, in June.
Another organisation to submit a statement of facts was the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP, which held, among other things, that in Bharatpur district, the relationship between Jatavs and Jats was very cordial and that only political parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) provided an impetus to the caste conflict. The Lodha Commission rubbished this assertion but averred that there had been indiscriminate use of the S.C./S.T. Act, which fractured “reciprocal relations between Jats and Jatavs at Kumher and its vicinity.”
While the Lodha Commission made broadly progressive recommendations and observations, it noted that the S.C./S.T. Act had become “the prime circumstance for deteriorated (sic) mutual harmony between Jatavs and other upper castes”. It is baffling that a piece of legislation, by its use, should lead to disharmony unless it upset the status quo to a large extent. More surprising is the fact that no government wanted the Lodha Commission report made public.
Eastern Rajasthan borders certain districts of Uttar Pradesh, which in that period had seen the rise of the BSP. Whether this acted as a catalyst is not certain, though clashes between Jatavs and Jats in these areas were reportedly common. The Lodha Commission was critical of the district administration for not carrying out preventive arrests and not issuing prohibitory orders. Instead, the Commission noted, an elaborate exercise was undertaken against Jatavs.
As in most States, the rate of registration of crimes against Dalits in Rajasthan is not very high. All ruling parties have done little to remedy this. A study conducted by the CDR in 2008 found that of the total 1,261 cases of atrocities against Dalits that year, nearly 380 related to the practice of untouchability; 149 related to violence against women; 140 involved land disputes; and 181 pertained to violence during elections.
Vasudev, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), explained that eastern Rajasthan was particularly vulnerable to caste violence owing to the benefits of education percolating down. However, he said, the tribal people of southern Rajasthan were in a much worse state.
“Until and unless there is an organised protest, no first information report [FIRs] is registered. We need to bring land reforms centre stage,” he said, adding that the increasing economic deprivation of these sections made them more vulnerable than before. He mentioned the gangrape of a Dalit college student on August 15 at Neem Ka Thana in Sikar district. It was only after the CPI(M) and other organisations made a hue and cry the culprits, all upper-caste youth, were arrested.
The situation of S.Ts was no less different. Barring one dominant section residing in the eastern parts of the State, which benefited most from the reservation policy, the tribal people of southern Rajasthan remain more or less where they were before Independence.
Said Vasudev: “Twenty years ago, at a meeting in Dungarpur, I asked a group of Bhils what their concept of heaven was. An old lady, Mangi Bai, said heaven for her meant a bowl of sweet laapi [wheat porridge], a guthdi [a cover made from old clothes] and a jhompi [hut]. They dream of the same things even today.”
A State secretariat member of the CPI(M), Dhuli Chand Meena, who is associated with the Kisan Sabha in southern Rajasthan, said the atrocities against the tribal people were mainly land-related. In those parts, where the remnants of feudalism still persisted along with mixed populations, discrimination existed in the form of denying the tribal people the right to sit on cots or in chairs or even wear proper clothes, he said.
“Whenever cases are registered, they are not followed up and cognisable offences are not registered. The conviction rates for atrocities committed against the tribal people are very low. In fact, what can be said for the S.Cs can be safely extended to the S.Ts as well, the only difference being that all the human development indicators of the S.Ts in southern Rajasthan are very poor when compared with even the rest of the State,” Dhuli Chand Meena said.
If anything, the Act, along with other laws such as the Forest Rights Act, needs to be implemented rigorously. For a social reform measure to succeed one of the basic prerequisites is political will, which seems to be lacking.
CONSTANT VIGIL By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Bathani Tola and Patna
“THE senas [militia] are not very active and there have been no big attacks or mass killings. But life is still the same. We are here and they are there, in different parts of the village, with not much communication or contact. And, of course, there is the fear that something may break out unexpectedly. We need to keep vigil all the time.” This was how Lal Chand Chaudhary, 55, described the present situation at Bathani Tola in Bihar’s Bhojpur district.
Thirteen years ago, on July 11, 1996, he, a Dalit, lost his wife, Sancharu Devi, and one-and–a-half-year-old girl child, Baby Sugandhi, when members of the Ranveer Sena, the self-professed militia of the upper-caste Bhumihar community, launched a ferocious attack on the hamlet. Among the 22 people killed were 12 women and eight children. Lal Chand got a compensation of Rs.1 lakh from the government and help to set up a telephone booth, but that did not change social equations. As he says, his community of Dalits and a clutch of Muslims occupy the Tola and the Bhumihars stay a little distance away in the main part called Barki Kharaon.
Lal Chand and many others, including his neighbour Phaguni Chaudhary, whose mother and brother were killed that day, made bold to stay on in Bathani Tola and show that they would not succumb to terror. But not so Naimuddeen, the bangle seller who lost six members of his family in the attack; he moved to Ara, the district headquarters of Bhojpur. He, too, got a compensation for the lives lost and the job of a peon in a government office in Ara.
Naimuddeen adds that the administration has failed to address the security concerns of the family. “As a family that got ravaged in a gruesome caste attack, I had asked for a gun licence to protect myself, but that has been denied systematically. There is the propaganda that the Ranveer Sena is a dead organisation, but that is entirely untrue,” he says. “They are regrouping under a new leadership and have stepped up their activities in many places, including Bhojpur district. The only succour we have is from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist-Liberation) led by leaders like Dipankar Bhattacharjee.”
The CPI (ML) has been active in the village since the early 1970s and has been winning panchayat elections in and around Bathani Tola since 1978. According to a number of Dalits and Muslims, this political affiliation does help in keeping the balance of power in the village. Still, there are stray attacks and skirmishes. Last year, two young men of the Tola, Dhanesh Kanu and his friend Tarakeshwar Yadav, were killed in the Barki Kharaon area. Kanu, a plus-two student, had gone for a function in his school and had taken a short-cut close to Barki Kharaon. He and Tarakeshwar Yadav were done to death in that part of the village. Kanu’s aunt Kunti Devi said her nephew was killed by members of the upper-caste militia in a clear instance of caste killing. However, the local police and the administration treated this as a case of personal vendetta.
According to activists of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), such official apathy is nothing new and is not confined to places like Bathani Tola. They point out that the families of the 10 Dalit victims belonging to the Nat community, who were lynched by upper-caste people on September 13, 2007, in Dhelpruva village in Vaishali district, were also given similar treatment by the administration. However, political mobilisation by different Dalit organisations, including the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the CPI(ML) and the NCDHR, has strengthened the resolve of Dalit communities in many parts of the State to fight for their rights.
Lakshmanpur-Bathe, where 58 Dalits, including women and children, were killed on December 1, 1997, by Ranveer Sena activists, is cited as a case in point by many observers. Dalits of the village have reportedly become more organised after the incident and demand their rights in a collective and effective manner.
This has curtailed the strike power of many upper-caste militias. For 25 years, starting from the mid-1970s, Bihar had a large number of active upper-caste militia groups, making the State synonymous with atrocities against the S.C. Over 80 armed attacks took place against Dalits and other oppressed sections during this period and claimed more than 300 lives. Such rampant attacks have come down in the past five years.
However, as the people of Bathani Tola, including Lal Chand Chaudhary, noted, this by itself has not brought about dramatic changes in the social equations or in the discrimination against Dalits. A fear that things can take a turn for the worse rules large sections of the Dalit population in Bihar even today and the community exists in a state of eternal vigil.
LITTLE IMPACT By S. Dorairaj in Chennai
IF the Kizhavenmani carnage of Dalits in 1968 in the then composite Thanjavur district is an indelible blot on the history of Tamil Nadu, there followed many more such crimes, each more heinous than the previous one. The Melavalavu multiple murders, the Tamiraparani massacre, the Kodiyankulam violence, the Nalumoolaikinaru atrocities, the Thinniyam humiliation and the murder of democracy in Pappapatti and three other reserved village panchayats where elections were scuttled for 10 years were the worst among them. The enactment of the S.C./S.T. Act in 1989 and the notification of its Rules in 1995 made no difference to this horrible situation.
According to the State Crime Records Bureau, from 2003 to 2008 a total of 8,209 crimes against Dalits were reported, including 5,047 cases under the S.C./S.T. Act and 3,162 under the IPC. The average conviction rate in both categories was only 24.26 per cent. But Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO, has put the average conviction rate in the cases registered under the S.C./S.T. Act alone at 5 per cent to 7 per cent.
Progressive and secular forces by their concerted efforts have recorded resounding successes in the legal battle against casteist forces in a few cases. In the Melavalavu (Madurai district) case, relating to the gruesome killing of the local panchayat president K. Murugesan and five other Dalits on June 30, 1997, the Supreme Court upheld the life sentence awarded to 17 persons in its order on October 22, 2009.
Uthapuram in Madurai district is another success story where a part of the “wall of untouchability” put up by casteist forces was demolished and the victims of police excesses were paid a total compensation of Rs.15 lakh on the recommendation of the inquiry commission appointed by the Madras High Court in January last. The Dalits’ struggle to end caste oppression in the village had the complete backing of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), the CPI(M) and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).
Much ahead of these two cases, the apex court gave a landmark judgment in a case relating to police excesses in Nalumoolaikinaru in Tuticorin district in 1992, holding 82 police personnel, including a Deputy Inspector General of Police and the Superintendent of Police, guilty. The court also ordered disbursement of compensation, totalling Rs.23 lakh, to the victims, who were represented by AIDWA.
In several other cases, the perpetrators of violence went scot-free. Notable among these is the Kodiyankulam violence of August 31, 1995, in which the police let loose terror in a Dalit habitation, and the Thamiraparani massacre of July 23, 1999, which claimed 17 lives when the police launched a brutal attack on a rally of estate workers in Tirunelveli town even as they ran towards the river in a bid to escape.
In the Thinniyam torment of May 22, 2002, the accused got away with a mild punishment though they had committed the grave crime of forcing two Dalits to eat each other’s excreta. The issue was brought to the notice of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National S.C.-S.T. Commission by the Tamil Nadu People’s Watch.
One reason why only a small number of cases are registered is that Dalits do not file complaints against the dominant communities fearing reprisal, as they depend mostly on the landholders for their livelihood. The time-consuming nature of litigation also forces them to keep away from police stations, says P. Sampath, TNUEF convener. “Even if they lodge a complaint under the S.C./S.T. Act, the police ask the caste Hindus to lodge a counter complaint so that a criminal case is filed against the Dalits, too. The negligible conviction rate in cases under the S.C./S.T. Act also demoralises the oppressed sections,” he adds.
Senior advocate P. Rathinam, who has fought many cases of atrocities against Dalits, says that most of the crimes against the oppressed sections are not registered under the S.C./S.T. Act. “Even when they are registered, the first information report is diluted deliberately. In certain cases, due compensation, as per an order issued by the State government in 1998, is not disbursed to the victims,” he alleges.
A. Kathir, director of Evidence, has urged the State government to conduct a detailed review of the implementation of the various aspects of the S.C./S.T. Act, such as the registering of cases and the preparation of charge sheets. Of a total of 6.68 lakh cases of cognisable crimes reported in 2008, only 0.24 per cent were under the S.C./S.T. Act.
The special courts set up by the government for quick disposal of cases relating to atrocities against Dalits need better infrastructure to achieve their objective, he says. “A detailed survey on the atrocity-prone villages is the need of the hour,” he added.
As per official data, discriminatory practices against Dalits exist in 28 districts in the State, which has been ruled by the two major Dravidian parties – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) – since 1967.
The government’s policy note on the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department for 2009-2010 refers to the “effective implementation” of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the S.C./S.T. Act to abolish untouchability and to prevent atrocities against Dalits. It speaks about the role of the human rights and social justice wing of the State police in enforcing the provisions of the two Acts and of the four special sessions courts functioning in Tiruchi, Thanjavur, Madurai and Tirunelveli for the speedy disposal of cases.
This becomes particularly important in a State where Dalits are numerically a significant section. As per the 2001 Census, Dalits form 19 per cent and the S.Ts 1.04 per cent, of the total population of 6.24 crore. Of the 385 blocks in the State, 153 have more than 25 per cent Dalit population and around 3,550 villages have more than 40 per cent Dalit population. S.Cs and S.Ts constitute more than 20 per cent of the population in six of the 30 districts (as of 2008). Among them, in Tiruvarur they form 32.35 per cent, Nilgris 31.23 per cent, Perambalur 30.21 per cent, Cuddalore 27.76 per cent and Villupuram 27.39 per cent.
Official data for 2008 indicate that curbing atrocities against the oppressed sections is a formidable task. There are 186 villages classified as “atrocity prone” and 230 that are “dormant atrocity prone”. Among them, 166 villages have been described as “highly sensitive”.
Various social indicators make it amply clear that the State has a poor record of empowerment of Dalits. According to official sources, 31.2 per cent of the Dalit population in rural areas and 40.2 per cent in urban areas are among the below-poverty-line social groups. Official documents also point out that the literacy level of Dalits is much lower than the general literacy rate. According to the 2001 Census, as against the State’s general literacy rate of 76.2 per cent, only 63.2 per cent of Dalits and 41.5 per cent of members of the S.Ts are literate. The lack of political will for radical land reforms and redistribution of surplus land to landless Dalits has contributed to conflicts in the rural areas. Even official sources point out that though 83.08 lakh Dalits live in villages, only 10 per cent of them are cultivators. Around 90 per cent of these cultivators have less than one hectare of land. As per the 2001 Census, 58.5 per cent of Dalits are agricultural workers and 29 per cent fall in the “other workers” category.
Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s statement on November 11 that surplus land has been distributed to 61,985 landless Dalits under the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Reduction of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1970, only shows the yawning gap between the Dalits’ quest for land and the government’s response, a veteran leader of the All India Kisan Sabha points out.
Demanding a holistic approach to the issue, the TNUEF, an umbrella organisation of 45 State-level class and mass outfits and 15 Dalit and human rights associations, took out a rally in Chennai on October 27. Besides calling for the strict implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, it called for steps to redeem the 2.5 lakh acres (one lakh hectares) of “panchami” lands grabbed from Dalits. Setting up of a State Commission for S.C.-S.T. welfare; the formation of district-level panels with due representation to Dalit organisations and secular forces to monitor the implementation of these two Acts; and the raising of the percentage of reservation for S.Cs to 19, commensurate with their population, are among the other demands of the front.
COURTS NEEDED By Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed in Bangalore
ON August 2, 1987, in Bendigere village of Belgaum district in northern Karnataka, four S.C. youth were forced to eat human excreta by caste Hindus who accused them of stealing maize. According to excerpts from a report of the Karnataka Legislature Committee for the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the year 1987-88, the upper-caste men abused the Dalit youth using their caste name and threatened them: “You bloody fellows, go and bring human shit and eat it, otherwise you will have to face severe consequences.”
Several days went by before this gross act was even reported, but the incident (along with other such instances across the country) was responsible for the inclusion of Section 3(1)(i) in the S.C./S.T. Act. However, the Act has not led to any significant reduction in atrocities reported against Dalits in the State.
According to the 2001 Census, the S.Cs constituted slightly over 16 per cent of the State’s population and the S.Ts around 6.5 per cent. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2007, there were 205 incidents of crime against members of the S.Cs and 1,844 incidents against members of the S.Ts. This is partly because Dalits, more than Adivasis, have fixed roles in the political economy of a populated area.
According to the Directorate of Civil Rights Enforcement, a State-level body that looks into complaints regarding atrocities against members of the S.Cs and the S.Ts, the number of convictions under the Act is insignificant. The majority of the cases are either pending trial or are classified as “B reports” (meaning that the complaint itself has been proved wrong or false).
According to the NCRB’s statistics, Karnataka ranks sixth in the country in the number of crimes against S.Cs and eighth in crimes against S.Ts. (By population, Karnataka ranks ninth in the country.)
According to S. Japhet, Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India University, part of the reason why the Act has failed to deter atrocities against Dalits is that Karnataka has some of the lowest conviction rates for complaints made under it. Japhet was the coordinator for a research that led to a report in 2005 evaluating the performance of special courts that were set up for dealing with cases of atrocities under the S.C./S.T. Act.
According to Japhet, this is one of the most serious drawbacks in the implementation of the Act. “In the majority of districts in the country, there are no special courts as mandated by the provisions of this Act,” he said. Between 1997 and 2000, only four districts in Karnataka had the special courts compared with 12 in Andhra Pradesh, 10 in Gujarat, 35 in Madhya Pradesh, 17 in Rajasthan and 40 in Uttar Pradesh.
According to K.L. Chandrashekhar Aijoor, research assistant at the same centre where Japhet works, the number of special courts in Karnataka has only gone up to seven now, but considering that every district is supposed to have a special court, Karnataka should have 29 such courts. (These are usually sessions courts that are briefly designated as special courts to deal with cases under the Act.)
FAILURE OF THE ACT
One of the most glaring examples of the failure of the Act in Karnataka was the acquittal of all the accused in the March 2000 massacre of seven Dalits at Kambalapalli village in Kolar district, around 80 kilometres from Bangalore. The massacre took place after a skirmish between Vokkaligas and Dalits. The gruesome killings were the result of a cumulative build-up of tension between the Vokkaliga and the increasingly aware Dalit communities in the region.
The immediate provocation was an altercation between two Dalit youth and a Reddy (Vokkaliga) man over the use of a certain stretch of road. Following this a mob of Vokkaligas attacked a group of Dalits who had returned after filing a police complaint. The houses of a Dalit and his neighbour were burnt. Among the seven Dalits who died were a woman and her two sons and daughter.
According to media reports, the witnesses turned hostile when the case came up for hearing in the local court. All the accused were acquitted. The matter is waiting to be heard in the Karnataka High Court.
Such prolonged delay demonstrates that the twofold purpose of the Act – to prevent atrocities and to provide compensation and rehabilitation to victims after a speedy trial – has not been fulfilled.
More than 25 per cent of the population in Kolar is Dalit and the district has a history of caste violence. In the decades before the massacre, there was resentment over the establishment of a Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS) chapter in the district. Part of the discord between upper and lower castes stems from the seemingly upward mobility of Dalits.
Karnataka has an active Dalit movement, which started in the 1970s. As its effects began to filter down, the consciousness among Dalits about their constitutional rights increased. This has led to a change in their attitude towards caste. The upper castes have resented this change. Even trivial things like the way a Dalit dressed annoyed upper-caste members. In Kambalapalli, for example, one of the victims used to tuck in his shirt.
A report on the Kambalapalli carnage published by the People’s Democratic Forum in April 2000 said: “The tucked-in shirt is like a red rag for caste Hindus, for it symbolised the growing arrogance of Dalits and their modernisation.”
While the conscious identity of Dalits has led to resentment from the upper castes in rural areas, even urban areas like Bangalore are not immune to caste discrimination. “Over the past two years, two Dalit students committed suicide in Bangalore – one was a student of the Indian Institute of Science, while the other was a student of the University of Agricultural Sciences. The prejudiced mindset of caste-Hindu society led to creating a situation where these students committed suicide,” said Lolaksha, a social activist who follows closely the instances of discrimination against Dalits in the State.
MANY HURDLES By Aparna Alluri in Hyderabad
LALITHA (name changed on request), 25, is awaiting her court summons. A member of the women’s wing of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS), she was active in her local community until she became a victim herself.
As part of community initiatives, she often visited the local police station. When a new circle inspector was appointed in March 2008, she had a minor altercation with him. She says his immediate response was, “You are a Madiga and you are wearing sunglasses, driving a bike and walking around so confidently. Who do you think you are?”
“For nearly eight months, every time I met him, he repeated the same thing. He abused me by my caste name several times.” The verbal taunts soon escalated to sexual overtures. When she questioned him about complaints she had received against him, things became worse. “In November, I was arrested and detained for one night. He threatened me, shoved me against a wall and warned me against confronting him again. I was shifted to the women’s police station only at 1-30 a.m.,” she says.
Her case is pending with the State Human Rights Commission. She is yet to file an FIR against the officer for fear of further harassment. “I don’t know what else to do,” she says. “He expects me to cower in fear, but why should I?” she says. “I am educated, I know right from wrong and I know my rights. In what way am I lesser than he?”
Lalitha’s case is more the rule than the exception. Counter-cases have become an easy recourse to delaying and eventually denying justice to historically disadvantaged groups. “For every case filed by a Dalit there is a counter case against him/her by the accused,” says M. Chalapathi, High Court advocate and Dalit rights coordinator, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).
“The police register the second complaint and arrest the Dalit victim, compelling him/her to withdraw the case. Or, they keep both cases pending and use the case as ammunition when the victim pressures them to act,” says Bojja Tarakam, eminent lawyer and Dalit rights activist.
This remains the situation, even after 12 of the State’s 23 districts have been identified as atrocity-prone by the government. Attack is the most common form of atrocity, accounting for 27 per cent of the crimes.
Of the State’s population of 7,62,10,007 (2004-05), the S.Cs constitute 1,23,39,496 and the S.Ts 50,24,104. Dalits belong mainly to two castes – Mala and Madiga – and are agricultural labourers. The land-owning, politically dominant groups are Reddys, Kammas, Rajus and Kapus. This social and economic polarisation has had significant political implications. The 1980s marked the advent of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the rise of the Dalit movement. N.T. Rama Rao’s rise to power is often seen as the political ascendancy of coastal Andhra’s rich Kamma farmers. The atrocities against Dalits in Karamchedu (1985), Neerukonda (1987) and Chundur (1991) were seen as manifestations of a conflict caused by the shift in political power at the top and the rising consciousness below.
More than two decades later, the State’s record in checking atrocities against Dalits remains poor. According to figures with the Department of Social Welfare, 4,157 cases were registered in 2008 under the S.C./S.T. Act. Of these, 1,783 cases were closed as false and 1,004 are pending completion of investigation. For the same period, out of 3,661 cases brought to court, only 128 resulted in convictions. Interestingly, only in eight cases appeals were filed on the acquittals.
As for visits by the Vigilance and Monitoring Committees prescribed under the Act, only 45 visits were recorded for 19 districts in 2008. Information was cited as unavailable for the remaining four districts.
Currently, there is a writ petition pending in the Andhra Pradesh High Court demanding the effective implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act, 1989, and Rules 1995.
The counter-affidavits filed by the police in response to the petition speak for themselves. Police records in the period from 1995 to 2006 show that 21,000 cases were registered under the Act. Of these, more than 14,000 are pending without a charge sheet being filed, even though the Act stipulates that investigation must be completed within 30 days of the FIR being filed. “This is a clear violation of Section 4 of the Act, which deals with dereliction of duty,” says Chalapathi.
The petition demands that criminal proceedings be initiated against those police officers who fail to discharge their duties as prescribed under the Act. “The Act insists on special courts and special public prosecutors to enable speedy trial. But cases have been pending for nearly 10 years in the investigation stage itself,” says Bojja Tarakam. “Yet not a single police officer has been prosecuted for negligence.”
He says one reason for such high pendency is the many attempts to quash cases by claiming that they are false. “When the High Court receives such a petition, it stays all further proceedings, including investigation, though the Supreme Court has directed the High Court not to interfere in investigations.”
However, the reasons for delay cited in the counter-affidavits are far more incredulous. The reasons include “for want of accused”, “for want of examination of witness”, “no post-mortem report”, “no FSL [forensic science laboratory] certificate”, even for cases pending since 1995. Even VIP duty is submitted as a reason for numerous investigations pending since 1996.
“Whose fault is that?” asks Chalapathi. “Is this not negligence of duty?”
The delay itself seems to have become the reason in many instances. “Case Diary not available and as such unable to furnish the exact reason for delay,” or “as the case was registered in 1998, reasons not known to present Investigating Officer,” reads one entry in the register. “Close to 105 reasons have been furnished and not one is legally substantial,” says Chalapathi.
“I have personally told police officers that they may be technically right in closing certain cases, but the matter doesn’t end there. If witnesses turn hostile, they need to ask why that has happened,” says A. Vidyasagar, former Commissioner of Social Welfare. He agrees that special courts do exist, but says “the progress they have made seems to suggest that cases under the S.C./S.T. Act are only one of the things they address rather than their priority”. He says a review at the Chief Minister’s level in 2008 led to a suggestion that a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) must be made to supervise the inquiries in every district. “The idea was accepted,” he says. “The only solution is continuous review.”
Trial is a far cry for many because registering a case is often a struggle by itself. Getting a case registered under the S.C./S.T. Act is a bigger hurdle. Whether the accused abused the victim by his caste name is often seen as the grounds for registering cases under the Act. However, the Act only stipulates that the victim must belong to the S.C./S.T. community and the accused to another community. If the victim or his/her family has a Christian name, or is known to go to church, they are told they cannot register the case under the Act. “This is sufficient to file a petition quashing the case as false. The court gives the victims 15 days to file an objection, failing which the case is closed. Given that most of these people are poor and uneducated, they may not respond in time,” says Chalapathi.
Curiously, caste certificates are often demanded not just to register a case but also for the investigation to proceed. In numerous cases, this was cited as the reason for the delay in the investigation.
The hurdles are many and victories have been few and far between. Even as hundreds wait for justice, police records and trials only present a part of the picture. “Untouchability is still rampant. Dalits are still not treated as humans. Where is the question of human rights?”